There’ll be gold of a different sort in the Victorian goldrush city of Ballarat this Easter and this time it will be running in the streets – literally
Australian Studebaker enthusiasts will gather in the city 110km northwest of Melbourne for their 18th National Meeting.
The legendary US marque was once a byword for performance, innovation and style with a range of cars that included the Hawk coupes and, ultimately, the striking, fibreglass-bodied, Avanti.
But it was a small player, and like most small players in the Big Three-dominated US car market, it withered and vanished.
There was always something a little futuristic about post-World War II Studebakers, with the late 1940s cars’ radical front end styling and wrap-around glass rear screens.
The nose bodywork thrust forward in emulation of the piston-engined fighter aircraft of the just-ended war, with a centrally-mounted “spinner” that evoked the streamlined propeller bosses of inline-engined fighter planes like the North American Mustang and Lockheed Lightning.
Ford had a similar idea, using a central spinner in the 1949 sedan’s grille, but it paled compared with Studebaker’s over-the-top take on the streamlined fighter plane.
Aviation themes also give birth to the fins that adorned US cars of the 1950s, Cadillac stylists experimenting in the late 1940s with little nodules that echoed the twin tailfins of the Lockheed Lightning twin-boomed fighter.
They were heady times and Studebaker styling reflected the optimism and confidence of a nation that had shaken off the horrors of global war and was looking bright-eyed towards a prosperous future.
Studebaker’s design chief, Raymond Loewy, nicknamed the father of industrial design, had a distinguished portfolio that ranged from pre-war cars and streamlined buses and railway steam locomotives, to iceboxes for Coca-Cola, housewares and, later, work for NASA.
Among Loewy’s best-known and purist designs for Studebaker was the Starliner coupe from 1953, a cleanly-styled two-door which was recently voted one of the Top 10 cars of the 1950s.
The Starliner morphed into the finned Hawks of later that decade, including the gorgeous and valuable Golden Hawk.
Several Starliners will be in Ballarat at Easter, among them a take on the model that’s as wild in its way as Loewy’s take on cars in general.
It’s the Starliner-based Top Doorslammer (Po-Mod) champion drag car of Melbourne's Peter Kapiris, which will be a feature of the Studebaker National Meeting's concours.
In 2001, Kapiris and the Studie cut out the standing quarter mile in 6.07 seconds at the Kwinana Beach Motorplex in Western Australia.
There’ll be at least one Loewy-designed Avanti coupe at the nationals, along with several Golden Hawks and a wide range of Pre- and Post-War sedans and coupes. Among them will be Lark compacts which were sold in Australia in the 1960s and were successful racing saloon cars.
The Shannons-sponsored Studebaker National Meeting begins on Thursday, April 9, and wraps up on Tuesday, April 14. The concours is on April 11.